It seems coincidental, or maybe providential, that the year 2012 shall be marked with the golden anniversary of two apparently disjointed events: the release of the first James Bond movie and the opening of the Second Vatican Council. Both had lasting effects on the areas to which they pertain yet the significance of their co-existence for the past fifty years may not be apparent at first glance. Bond is a flirtatious license-to-kill secret agent; the Council a renewal in the life of the Church. 007 is a much-appreciated hired hand for the British Secret Service using any means necessary to bring down the power-hungry; the Council’s aim is to conspicuously place the Church at the centre of religious and human history bringing joy and hope to the oppressed. James Bond is apparently mundane and void of any spiritual connotations; the Council is a “breath of fresh air” meant to help believers sift off the material and come to appreciate God as He truly is.
Despite this lack of similarities, I would like to put forward two main points of convergence which I think would help us in our reflections in this Year of Faith meant to mark the 50th anniversary of the Council. The first relates to mission: Bond is sent by M to eradicate some kind of injustice be it abuse of money or power. Yet most of the times, he is not the most able of agents. Indeed, he is sometimes physically inadequate when confronted with muscular characters in the series. What makes Bond fascinating in these circumstances is his dexterous use of wits, aided with the toy-like gadgets Q provides him with, which ultimately makes him the winner in these David-and-Goliath types of confrontation.
This may well hold the key to the reason why the series is the longest continually running film franchise. Bond’s world is a corrupt world marred with money-and-power-hungry giants to which the ordinary populace have no other alternative but to bow down reverently. Evil seems rife and insurmountable. What can the ordinary man in the street do when confronted by such an injustice? With Bond, the importance of the individual in the battle against evil is glorified; anyone can stand out from the crowd and make a difference in the world. This is precisely a Christian message: Christ and the saints were but ordinary human beings with extraordinary lives. They stand as models to admire and emulate when life seems unbearable and on the brink of meaninglessness. The Christian’s mission is precisely to make a difference in a lost world.
The second reflection which I wish to expound on is the series’ appeal to the contemporary culture in which each movie was born. Few other series have captured the circumstances current to each film’s release than James Bond, dealing with themes such as the energy crisis, the space race, the Cold War, women’s liberation and drugs, amongst others. Indeed, the 1979 Moonraker illustrates tensions between the Americans and the Soviets at the height of the Cold War; a position later toned down in Octopussy (1983), A View to a Kill (1985) and The Living Daylights (1987). Similarly, in 1989, License to Kill portrayed the battle against drug trafficking. Despite the contemporaneousness of the 007 movies, as a general rule, the plot remains rather the same from one movie to another: Bond is sent on a mission which often brings him face to face with death and from which he emerges unscathed and victorious.
This may serve as a good reflection on the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council which sought, and continues to seek, relevance in the here and now. Indeed the world needs a Church respondent to it’s current joys and hopes; it’s grieves and anxieties. It is of paramount importance that the Church continues to read the signs of the times in the world today. Despite this let us not forget that the plot or message we have to work with remains unchanged; the Church must respond to the new with an old and timeless message – Christ himself. Doing away with the plot but still responding to current issues would simply not be James Bond at all and neither would the Christian message be what it is. Neither would it make sense to do away with the new whilst keeping the plot; that would not be responding to what the audience is expecting and needing. Contemporaneousness and classicality have made the James Bond series what it is; contemporaneousness and classicality were championed in the Council and remain essential and sought after today, fifty years later.
In the Year of Faith, James Bond and the Second Vatican Council may serve as lasting lessons on the importance of mission to each and every Christian in a world desperately in need of meaning. Their symbiosis could help us appreciate what is timeless, classic and unchanging in the Christian message and respond diligently to what is temporal, contemporaneous and changing.